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Sunday 5 August 2012

The existence of objects - I

Mr. Upali Gamakumara referring to what he calls my reply to Prof. Carlo Fonseka states that an average person may go haywire reading it. It may be so as the average person has been taught by the western educational system to think in a particular way which has become the so called standard way today. However, Mr. Gamakumara says that sometimes he values my ideas and I am thankful to him for his compliment. In any event I was only responding to Prof. Fonseka’s article with some questions. Basically Mr. Gamakumara queries my views on existence of “objects” and says if we do not “accept the existence of particles or objects, then all what Buddha has preached on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ becomes null and void”. In order to answer the queries of Mr. Gamakumara it is necessary to give a summary of my philosophy which is based on Buddhism.

The materialists starting with the Greeks in the west, and the Dravyavadins in Bharat, in general attempted to reduce all phenomena to a materialist base. The Buddhist idealists in the form of Vinnavadins and the Greek idealists on the other hand wanted to show that the mind was supreme, and that the so called material world was the creation of the mind. We present a different approach, where the world as an observer “sees” is created by the observer due to “avidya” of anicca, dukka and anatta which could be “roughly translated” as ignorance of impermanence, suffering and soullessness.

We begin with the Theravada view that the “world” is anicca, dukka, anatta and sunya. However anicca and anatta are not concepts, and as such it is futile to attempt to translate them into English or any other language. Even in Pali they should be considered as non concepts that defy explanation using concepts or other words. Though the “world” is anicca, dukka, anatta and sunya, unlike in Madhyamikavada, sunya is not elevated to a concept with sunyata coming into the picture as a noun.

When it is said that anicca, dukka, anatta and sunya are not concepts it means that they cannot be grasped by the mind either in terms of other concepts or directly as an image formed in the mind. There are no perceptions of them and there are no citta rupa associated with them. Anicca should not be considered as non permanence, as while the latter is a concept that the mind can grasp, the former cannot be known by the mind. If “one” “grasps”, anicca, dukka, anatta then “one” attains Nibbana, and it is clear that knowing non permanence of “objects” is not sufficient to attain Nibbana.

There are two concepts that are important in any discussion on epistemology and ontology. Epistemology deals with knowledge while ontology is on existence. Though there are two branches called epistemology and ontology in western Philosophy, they are interwoven. The existence is not independent of knowledge of existence, in contrast to one of the ideas expressed on existence in western materialistic Philosophy. Does the world exist independent of the mind? Or is there a world independent of the mind? The answers to these questions also have to be considered as knowledge, if we are to build a theory of existence. The ontology is not independent of knowledge and theory of knowledge.

Whatever the answers given to the above questions, they are finally constructions of the mind. Nobody has ever found a way of expressing that the world exists independent of the mind, without finally getting the mind involved. Even if one is of the opinion that the world exists independent of the mind, one has to express that in words, and words are nothing but constructions of the mind. There is no way of expressing that the world exists independent of the mind, without involving the mind. Thus there is no Cartesian wall, as the existence of a world (observed) on the other side of the wall itself is a statement by an observer who has a mind.

One could say that it is the statement of a fact. However, the question arises as to how does one know that it is a fact. There are no facts by themselves. The so-called facts have to be known even if words are not used. It is not essential that knowledge has to be expressed in words. However, knowledge has to be known, even if with the use of images, which we call citta rupa, and images are associated with the mind. Thus there is no knowledge without mind, and the existence of something without knowing is unimaginable.

One could object to the above and say there are so many millions in the world who have no knowledge of the existence of far away galaxies whose existence cannot be doubted. Also it could be pointed out that just seventy five years ago nobody in the western world knew anything about the other galaxies but they had been in existence for millions of years. Thus it could be argued that the objects could exist without them being known to anybody in the universe. However, this is a statement by an observer living today, and not a statement of an observer who lived millions of years ago. It is the knowledge of an observer of the twenty first century, who argues or extrapolates that the universe had been in existence for millions of years. What the present observer says is that the objects he identifies as galaxies had been in “existence” in what he identifies as space and time, in the Newtonian picture, or that the galaxies had modified the space-time for so many millions of years, if he believes in Einstein. The statements which appear to be objective are not so, as any statement made today is an utterance by an observer living in the twenty first century. What are identified as galaxies, perhaps together with some other “objects”, could have been identified as something else, if our five sense organs and/or the mind (in Buddhism mind is also identified as a sense organ) had different “forms” from what we have now. Even if the five sense organs have remained the same for millions of years from the point of view of an “average’ person living in the twenty first century, the way people think has differed from culture to culture and from time to time.

We argue that the world is nothing but the creation of the observer, and that the world is the same as the knowledge of the world of the observer. In the present approach it is not assumed that a world exits independent of the observer who attempts to know or gather “information” of an already existing world. The observer creates knowledge of the “world”, and hence the “world” is relative to the sense organs, mind and the culture of the observer. The knowledge is thus created by the mind with the aid of the other sense organs. There is no knowledge or world, before such knowledge of the world is created, and the knowledge is created as concepts theories etc., by the observer. Thus the so called world is the conceptual and theoretical world of the observer that has been created by the mind. It should be noted that the concepts need not be in the form of words, as images formed in the mind (citta rupa) are also considered as concepts. (To be contimued)

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva